The Life of Saint Melania, The Great Renunciation, A.D. 403-407

cover of the ebook version of 'The Life of Saint Melania', by Cardinal Mariano Rampolla del TindaroSummary – Saint Paulinus of Nola. Melania becomes his Guest, January, 406. Flight to Sicily. Death of Rufinus. The Storm off Lipari. Africa. Saint Augustine. Residence at Tagaste. Sale of her property. Monastic Apostolate. Life of Penance and Charity,

For about four years Melania continued to live with the numerous household which she had gathered round her in the constant exercise of piety. Keeping always at a distance from Rome, she sojourned for periods of various duration upon those estates still remaining unsold in the Campania and in Sicily, and those in the country surrounding Rome. It is during these years, at the beginning of 406, probably after a short sojourn in Sicily, that we find her at Nola, pursuing the same mode of life, as the guest of Saint Paulinus. We will try to offer a rough sketch of the picture which is here set before us. It would, indeed, require a more gifted hand to present it in all the beauty of its conception, the harmony of its tints, and the vividness of its colouring.

The figure of Paulinus stands out in the first place mild, serene, radiating heavenly light, breathing purity, and compelling our love. The noble senator, the consul and magistrate, whose youth had been passed amid wealth and honours, reveals himself to us humble, simple, modest as a child. He it was who had unhesitatingly trampled on the world, who had been the faithful follower of Christ in poverty, in meekness, in charity; a man whose writings were full of unction, models of elegance, so far as was possible in that decadent age, and who was the inspired poet of a pure and holy muse. Paulinus and his beloved wife Therasia, despising the world, had distributed their wealth amongst the poor. Then, going to Barcelona, he had been ordained priest, after which he retired to a corner of sunny Campania, near the tomb of the martyr Saint Felix, for whom he had ever cherished such tender devotion. His dwelling at Nola, which was about a mile from any other habitation, was a spring of living water whence flowed innumerable blessings. Numberless were the works of piety with which he surrounded the shrine of the Saint of his predilection. The martyr’s tomb was enclosed by five sanctuaries, or small basilicas, like a splendid jewel in the centre of a casket; whilst guest-houses for pilgrims, hospices for the poor, and monasteries for men and women presented from afar the appearance of a little town which derived its life from the sacred ashes which lay in the heart of it. But the great works undertaken by Paulinus in 402-403 were the crowning glory and ornament of the renovated Nola. He restored and improved the ancient basilica erected in the martyr’s honour. He also caused a new church to be built, of great size and richly decorated, which was in truth a monument of Christian art, with magnificent porticoes and fountains, for which a copious supply of water was brought from the adjacent Avella. Great crowds of pilgrims flocked thither from all parts to implore the martyr’s intercession.

It was January of the year 406, and peace was once more smiling upon Italy after so much storm and calamity. The defeat of Rhadagaisus and his powerful army had scattered the storm-clouds which so long had lowered over Italy. Paulinus rejoiced exceedingly that the threatened danger had been averted, but he rejoiced still more at the circle of most dear and honoured guests which that January brought together under his roof. It was in truth a goodly company. Melania and her husband Pinianus, and her mother Albina; Avita, with her husband Turcius; Aproninus and their two children, Eunomia and Asterius; yEmilius, the Bishop of Beneventum; these, with Paulinus and Therasia, formed a choir of elect souls, or, as the poet gracefully expresses it, a lyre of ten strings in perfect harmony of thought and feeling. Avita was a niece of the elder Melania, and a cousin of the deceased Publicola. Her husband Aproninus was a noble senator, and had been converted from paganism to the Christian faith. This perfect Christian laid aside his senator’s robes for garments of rough frieze, and with his family led a life which resembled that of the monks in its fervent piety. Their daughter Eunomia, a consecrated virgin, was second cousin to Melania, who had trained her in every virtue, and guided her footsteps in the path of perfection. Eunomia’s brother, Asterius, following his sister’s example, had renounced the glory and wealth of his ancestral inheritance, and like another Samuel had dedicated himself to the service of the Most High. Finally, AEmilius, a scion of the illustrious house of that name, and the father of a family, was now a distinguished prelate of the Church. We shall soon see him called from that happy circle to proceed to Constantinople, there, as Papal Legate, to plead the cause of the persecuted Chrysostom at the Court of Theodosius. Such were the guests whom Paulinus had gathered around him.

The distance of fifteen centuries which separates us from that time hinders us from studying very closely the angelical life which was led by the band assembled at Nola a life of fraternal charity, of golden simplicity, of such serene peace as we can scarcely imagine in these unquiet days. Miserable garments, poor food, consisting of herbs and vegetables from the garden of Paulinus, but minds filled with thoughts of God, hearts over-flowing with joy, abundance of occupation, prayer in common, the study of the Scriptures, and manual labour, their conversation ever holy and ever cheerful. Let us for a moment, in imagination, join that holy company on a calm night in the January of the year of which we are speaking. A clear and brilliant sky studded with stars spreads like the fringe of the mantle of the Most High extended over that cenacle of saints. Suddenly the shrill crow of the cock is heard, and the two communities file modestly before us, followed by the noble guests, who are escorted by Paulinus and Therasia. Over the triple entrance to the new Basilica, the cross ensanguined with the Precious Blood of the Divine Redeemer and crowned with a garland of flowers reminds them that by that cross they must die to the world, and so carry off the crown. The doors are opened and reveal the interior of the Basilica in all its splendour. The triple apse, trichora, lined with marble, and the vault above refulgent with mosaics and gold, while in the gloom of night mystical light falls on the altar, which is covered with the richest cloths. Over the altar is raised the symbolic cross, with the crown and monogram of Christ wrought in gold and rare gems. The sanctuary is lighted by three golden lamps, which are hung by chains at each corner. Placed against the pillars are many coloured waxen tapers, whose perfumed wicks diffuse the sweetest fragrance. From the golden roof in the nave, suspended by chains of bronze, hang numerous lamps of silver and crystal, with branches elaborately wrought in the form of flowers and fruit; their tremulous light is reflected from the clear surface of the columns and from the marble walls on which scenes from the Old Testament are reproduced with vivid colouring in all the symbolic idealism of Christian art. Through the echoing arches now resound the sweet singing of the choirs of virgins and youths, in which inter-mingle the deeper notes of those saintly patricians who have renounced the world with all its pomp and luxury. But in that outpouring of praise from hearts enamoured of God, Melania’s voice soars in thrilling sweetness above all the rest. She is the mistress and the leader of the psalmody, and under her direction that chant ascends to heaven in strains of such ravishing sweetness as to resemble more the outpourings of an angelic choir than the song of mortals.

Paulinus seems rapt in ecstasy; from time to time he glances upwards at the symbolic mosaics of the apse, which are his own conception. There before him he sees the Hand of the Almighty stretched from heaven and scattering the clouds; the holy dove of the Divine Paraclete, and the Mystic Lamb surrounded with dazzling light. In the centre is the cross of our redemption, sprinkled with the Precious Blood of the Divine Victim, and grouped around we may recognize the twelve Apostles, who are to proclaim the Gospel to the world, represented here by twelve doves, together with the palm-branch symbolic of their triumph. Four streams issuing from a rock beneath represent the sources of Gospel Truth and of grace. As the strains of the nocturnal psalmody rise sweeter and higher, Paulinus becomes rapt in ecstatic prayer. As he gazes with eyes of love at the Lamb, that symbolic figure of Christ seems to warm into life and to exult with delight at the sound of Melania’s pure voice and that of her pupil Eunomia:

Eunomiam hinc Melani doctam sub principe voce
Formantem modulis psalmorum vasa modestis,
Auscultat gaudens dilecto Christus in agno.

It would seem that Melania very much wished to make a long sojourn at Nola with all her household. So much can be inferred from certain expressions of Paulinus, from which, moreover, we gather that he greatly desired to keep them always with him as his guests, sempiternos hospites. This was due not only to his pleasant intercourse with them and to their edifying life, although these afforded him such delight that he said in reference to them that they were the joy of heaven; but he desired their presence also because they were a perennial source of benefit to the poor and an example of all virtue to the rich. However, it is certain that the end of the year 408 found Melania and her family once more settled in her Roman country house, because it was from there that they set out for Sicily, accompanied by Rufinus of Aquileia, who was then far advanced in years and very infirm. It was during the last months of the year 408 that the approach of the Goths threatened Rome with all the horrors of a siege. Fear of the barbarians, who knew no respect for women, urged Melania to retire to some place of safety, together with the band of virgins who lived under her roof and formed part of her household.

Rufinus was then an old friend of the family, one also who was much loved and esteemed by Paulinus. Melania’s feelings of friendship for him would not allow her to leave him exposed to the dangers which threatened Rome and the surrounding Campagna; therefore she invited him to accompany them. He took with him as amanuenses to aid him in his literary labours a certain Donatus and also Ursacius, the brother of Exsuperantius, a bishop in Lucania. The party set sail for Sicily, probably from Ostia, and went from Naples to Nola to take leave of Paulinus. Thence they passed to Messina, where they took up their residence in the magnificent villa belonging to Melania on the western shore of the straits, opposite Reggio. Here, in this enchanting spot, surrounded with scenes of surpassing beauty both by sea and land, the band of saintly Christians continued their daily routine of prayer and good works. They profited much by the learned and edifying conversation of Rufinus, who urged them to still greater efforts of virtue. Meanwhile Melania was occupied in disposing of her remaining property, the proceeds of which she distributed, as usual, in alms and other corporal works of mercy.

But after the taking of Rome by Alaric, the barbarian invaders marched upon Southern Italy, devastating Latium, Campania, and the other regions through which they passed. They advanced to the very extremity of the Italian peninsula, occupying Reggio, which, together with its enchanting suburbs, they laid waste with fire and sword. As Melania, from the opposite shore, beheld these awful scenes, how fervently she must have returned thanks to God who had saved her from unknown and terrible danger. At the same time how her tender heart must have grieved for the victims of these awful excesses and for the irreparable ruin of her native land. Then it was that those who had erstwhile traduced and insulted Melania, now scourged by the fierce Goth and despoiled of the greater part of their wealth, were cured of their blind folly, and lauded the wisdom of the saintly heroine who had in good time saved her patrimony from Alaric and disposed of it to far greater advantage.

Meanwhile Rufinus, bowed beneath the weight of years and stricken with an affection of the eyes, laid aside his pen and, surrounded with the most loving care, calmly and sweetly slept in the Lord. During his stay in Sicily this venerable old man, almost an octogenarian, completed the translation of the Homilies of Origen on the Book of Numbers.

We can hardly doubt that it was the still present fear of the barbarian invaders which drove Melania from Sicily to seek a safer refuge in lands still more remote. Africa, separated as it was from Europe by the Mediterranean, was at that time regarded by the terrified Romans as the general asylum of fugitives. Many Roman families had already betaken themselves to Carthage, and Melania was persuaded to follow their example.

A further inducement to do so was offered by the fact that, having already disposed of her possessions in Italy and Sicily, she now wished to sell those which were scattered throughout the African provinces. The death of Rufinus rendered any further delay in the projected departure unnecessary; wherefore, in the month of December, after two years’ sojourn in Messina, she embarked for Carthage. Her deep affection for Paulinus caused her to desire greatly to see him once more before undertaking a journey which would for many years, perhaps for ever, deprive her of a similar opportunity. She had particular reasons which urged her very strongly to pay this visit. She wished, in the first place, to console Paulinus for all the sufferings which he had endured from the barbarians. After the occupation of Rome, the Goths invaded Campania, pillaged Nola, and even laid sacrilegious hands upon the saintly bishop. Saint Augustine alludes to this in his De civitate Dei (1:10). These events must have taken place shortly before the burning of Reggio, and Melania’s subsequent resolution to pass over into Africa. But, above all, Melania desired to congratulate Paulinus upon his election by the clergy and people to the see of Nola, and to receive from him for the first time the episcopal benediction. Paulinus was raised to the episcopal dignity shortly before the taking of Rome. Accordingly, when Melania and her household set sail, it was arranged that they should first proceed to Naples, whence she would journey by land to Nola.

The ship had scarcely left the straits when a violent storm arose, which placed the lives of the travellers in the utmost danger. So great was the violence of the tempest that even the sailors were filled with fear. They thought they recognized in the fierce war of the elements a certain manifestation of Divine wrath, and cried aloud in their terror: “It is a judgment of God!” But here assuredly man’s dull perceptions were at fault. Human foresight was too limited to discern in that violent disturbance of nature a merciful dispensation of Divine Providence, which willed that Melania should be the instrument of God’s loving mercy. This terrible gale thus encountered in December on the route to Naples must have been a strong scirocco, the Eurus of the Latins. To add to the general despair, water for drinking purposes ran short. In these trying circumstances Melania’s serene calm was undisturbed. As if inspired from on high, she addressed the sailors, saying that perhaps God did not will that they should continue their course to Naples; let them abandon the vessel to the guidance of the winds. They had scarcely done so when the scirocco drove them rapidly towards a small island, probably one of the AEolian group, and which, if this be so, from the fact of it being an episcopal see, could be no other than Lipari. As they drew near the island a frightful scene was presented to the travellers: the whole island resounded with cries and lamentations. A host of barbarian pirates had surrounded the place and taken captive men, women, and children, for whom they brutally demanded ransom, threatening in the event of refusal to put their captives to the sword and to set fire to the settlement. Scarcely had the news spread of the arrival of the vessel with Melania, whose fame had reached even this remote spot, when the bishop and the chief men of the place appeared before her and piteously entreated her to save them by paying the sum of money demanded as ransom.

Melania was deeply moved. Her generous heart, ever on fire with tender charity, at once responded to the appeal. Without the least hesitation she gave the required sum, amounting to 1,500 pieces of gold, to which she added an additional sum for the relief of these unhappy people’s wants, making in all a weight of specie which would be the equivalent of some 12,000 English sovereigns.* Further, hearing that they were suffering from famine, she ordered everything of the best from the ship’s supplies to be given to them. But her generosity was not yet satisfied. She learned that these cruel miscreants had carried off a noble matron whom they retained as their captive, hidden no one knew where. Melania at once offered a ransom of 500 gold pieces for her release. The money was accepted, and the lady was restored to her family. We may venture to discern in all this the true meaning of the storm which the short-sighted sailors in their despair had regarded as a sure indication of God’s vengeance.

Melania, inexpressibly happy at having been the means by which these people’s misery was relieved, resumed her journey. She reached Carthage without further incident. The great house of the Valerii was well known in those parts, not only because of their enormous possessions, but also because of the many members of the family who had filled the highest offices in the administration. But, more than all, the name was known as that of the illustrious woman, the fame of whose deeds had spread everywhere, awakening in all hearts profound admiration of her heroism.

We have no more convincing proof of the great esteem in which Melania was held than that afforded by the action of Saint Augustine, the greatest man in all Africa, nay, rather, the greatest man of his age. Directly he received the news of Melania’s arrival he wrote a most affectionate letter of welcome, and expressed his great regret that the imperative duties of his ministry and the rigours of the winter season prevented him from greeting her in person.

But all the respect and all the admiration of which she was the object never disturbed our saint’s humility. She shrank from earthly applause as she would have shunned her worst enemy. Whatever inducements Carthage might otherwise have offered as a residence, she was aware that the licentiousness introduced by those patrician families whom the barbarian invasion had driven there made the city a centre of corruption. Besides, the noise and bustle of town life were distasteful to her. The same objections applied to Hippo, although the fact of it being the residence of that bishop who was so great a luminary of the Church would naturally have attracted her to it. But Hippo was a densely populated Roman colony a riotous, noisy city, repugnant to all her tastes and inclinations. She preferred, therefore, to retire to one of the most remote parts of Numidia, and took up her abode in Tagaste. Here she could not only live in obscure retirement, but at the same time enjoy the friendship of the learned and saintly bishop Alypius, who was an intimate friend of Saint Augustine. His close intimacy with Paulinus must also have rendered his presence very consoling to one who loved Paulinus so dearly.

Once settled in her new home, Melania proceeded to dispose of the enormous estates and other property which she possessed in pro-consular Africa, in Numidia, and in Mauretania. These were about the last remnants of that royal inheritance of which the heiress of the greatest house in Rome was despoiling herself in order to assume the garb of poverty and to enroll herself among the poor and the outcasts of society. The enormous sums of money which she received were quickly dispensed in the furtherance of every good work. She looked upon that wealth as an intolerable burden, or, to speak more accurately, as representing the sharp thorns of the Gospel parable. She assigned a certain proportion of this money to the East, the remainder was devoted to the various provinces of Africa. A letter of Saint Augustine’s still remains to us to attest that the city of Hippo participated in Melania’s bounty. In short, the whole of her patrimony in Africa was lavishly spent either in the relief of those unhappy beings who languished in captivity or in the maintenance of monasteries and churches. We can form some idea of Melania’s other generous bounties when we read what she did for the church in Tagaste, which was miserably poor. In her ardent zeal for the Divine worship she embellished and adorned the sacred edifice, furnishing it with the precious vessels in gold and silver, and with altar-cloths richly embroidered in gold and thickly sewn with pearls. Further, she endowed this church with extensive property which included a great portion of the town itself. Besides this, she acted with similar generosity towards the other churches and monasteries in Africa. On the recommendation of the principal bishops, Saint Augustine, Alypius, and Aurelius of Carthage, she assigned to the monasteries a settled income, which rendered them independent of precarious alms-giving. In fact, she seems to have carried out unhesitatingly all that was suggested to her by these venerable prelates. But the crown of all her good works was the foundation of two new monasteries, one for men and one for women. These foundations were of a special and distinctive character, and were the outcome of the highest form of chanty, which throws into brilliant relief the influence exercised by Christianity in the alleviation of slavery. These two large monasteries were founded and endowed by Melania for her own freedmen and handmaidens. They afforded accommodation for eighty men and 130 women. By such delicate expedients were the souls of these hitherto despised beings gradually elevated and ennobled, not only in the moral and religious order, but also in the eyes of the world, which now, for the first time, beheld masters and servants leading in common a life of perfect equality. Such isolated action was far, no doubt, from being a final settlement, but it at least heralded the dawn of a complete social transformation in the ancient Roman world.

We have now reached a stage in the history of our Saint when it becomes necessary to call attention to one of the most striking features of her life. She was an ardent apostle of monasticism and of virginity as they were practiced in the first Christian centuries. She not only herself professed this mode of life, but laboured also to propagate it. We may say, without fear of error, that Melania, her whole life long, shows herself deeply penetrated with the spirit of retirement, of prayer, of poverty, of humility, of mortification; she was filled with an ardent love of virginal chastity, and felt within her soul an urgent need to infuse her spirit into other souls, so as to rescue them from the all-pervading corruption of that age. Hence it was that she became the foundress of monasteries and the wise instructress of virgins. In her loving, gracious manner she exhorts the nuns and women of her time never to grow weary of repeating, ” Life is short; why, then, degrade our bodies, which are the temples of God? Why defile the chastity in which Christ has His dwelling? He so honoured virginity that when He became the world’s Redeemer, He chose to be born of a virgin.”

These sentiments did not arise in her from any littleness or narrowness of soul; nor from any sufferings or disappointments which might have disgusted her with the things of the world. She occupied such an exalted position in society that she might have reigned over it as a queen. It was rather her own moral and intellectual virility which prompted her, amidst the universal corruption of that age, to seek a mode of life which was more consonant with the dignity of man’s nature, and better fitted to prepare the way for a much-needed social reformation. In the asceticism of monastic life, modelled as it was on the Gospel, she found her ideal realised both in conception and in fact. Hence it was that the monastery to her was an ark in which safety was to be found from the contamination of a new sort of deluge of moral evil; a kind of earthly Paradise of chosen souls; a fountain of pure life from which the soul might drink and gain strength to trample on all that was base, and to soar ever higher; in fine, a new gymnasium for spiritual athletes, who, by continual self-discipline, might tame reluctant nature, and succeed in making the earth a stepping-stone to Heaven. Thus her keen vision, rendered clearer by Divine light, enabled her to foresee that in those peaceful abodes should be trained the militia whose work it would be in the inevitable conflict with barbarism and the imminent downfall of the Roman Empire to transform the barbarian invaders, to reform society, and to civilize the Christian world.

Mention must be made here, however briefly, of an incident which occurred after Melania and Pinianus had fixed their abode in Tagaste, an incident which still further illustrates the veneration in which both were held. Accompanied by the holy bishop Alypius, Melania and her husband went to visit Augustine, at Hippo. Scarcely was their arrival known in the city when an extra-ordinary enthusiasm was displayed by all classes. They went together to the church to assist at the Divine Mysteries. The celebrant had reached the offertory when there arose a low murmur from the people, which gradually swelled into a sound like thunder. The whole congregation were crying aloud to Augustine to impose his hands on Pinianus and ordain him priest of their church. Both Augustine and Pinianus resisted, but they could not calm the excited populace. The tumult grew greater and more terrifying. Entreaties were followed by threats, and from threats they proceeded to insults, directed specially against Alypius, whom they regarded as the prime mover in the resistance to their wishes, from his desire to keep Pinianus at Tagaste. It was feared that the agitators would proceed to actual violence, and to allay the general excitement, Pinianus was forced to swear that he would remain at Hippo, and also that if at any time he should decide to enter the priesthood, he would be ordained in no other church. Such were the terms upon which calm was eventually restored.

Melania remained in Africa for seven years, living amongst the consecrated virgins who were once her slaves, but who now and for ever were to be treated as her sisters. She practised such severe penance that it seems almost incredible that a woman of delicate constitution, reared in all the luxury and refinement of a patrician house, could have endured such a life. Her garments were of haircloth, and at night she snatched a few brief moments of rest on the hard ground her only bed. Her sole diet consisted of herbs or vegetables prepared with a little oil or a few drops of hydromel. Even this poor fare was only partaken of once a day, and not until evening. By degrees she accustomed herself to remain without food for still longer periods, until at last she was able to forgo all nourishment for a week together, from the Sunday to the following Saturday, passing the whole of Lent in this most rigorous observance of the fast. In the great heats of the summer, the only sustenance she allowed herself after prolonged abstinence from food, was a few figs. It may be truly said that her prayer was continual; she recited the Divine Office daily with her community, to which she added long private devotions. Her days were passed in strictest silence and recollection each hour being fully occupied. A certain portion of every day was devoted to manual labour. Melania’s own principal employment consisted in transcribing manuscripts, a task which she performed with the greatest ease and accuracy in Greek and Latin, writing from the dictation of one of the community, whose smallest mistake she instantly corrected. The money obtained from these works was spent in clothing the poor, whose feet Melania also washed. So late as the tenth century, codices were in circulation containing works of the Fathers of the Church which had been transcribed by the hand of Saint Melania. Special hours were also assigned to the reading of the Holy Scriptures, which she read through from beginning to end four times during the year. She also carefully studied the treatises of the Fathers, whose works she eagerly sought out, and with all of which she was well acquainted, as far as it was possible to obtain them. To these she added the reading of the Lives of the Saints. Two hours were all that Melania allowed herself for sleep, at the end of which she arose promptly to call her companions to renewed prayer and labour. With such fortitude and constancy, worthy of a martyr, did she expiate the licentiousness and sensuality of Roman life. Many a time her mother, anxious to relieve her daughter’s loneliness, sought her little cell, only to find her so intent upon the duty of the hour, that she could not coax a word from her not even a look. We cannot wonder that this mother, recalling the mother of the Macchabees, should declare herself also blessed by a sort of martyrdom. Surely if the latter has eternal joy in Heaven for having witnessed for one day the sufferings of her children, how much greater must be the reward of her who suffered the daily martyrdom of beholding her delicately-nurtured child chastise her body so severely, and refuse to allow herself the least respite from continual labour and mortification. Hence it was that Albina, even amid her tears, offered perpetual thanks to God for having bestowed upon her so-saintly a daughter.

There is nothing which illustrates more strikingly the impression which Melania’s disinterestedness and asceticism produced upon her generation than the testimony of the historian Palladius in his famous chronicle of early Eastern asceticism, best known as the Historia Lausiaca. It is especially remarkable because this glowing account of Melania’s great renunciation was penned during her life-time, when she was not yet forty years old. Palladius had visited her in 405, fifteen years before his account was written; while Bishop Lausus, to whom his book was dedicated and from whom it derived its name, was her intimate friend. The account begins thus:

“Now inasmuch as I have already promised above to relate the history of Melania the younger, it is meet that I should discharge my obligation, for it is not just that I should consign to oblivion a noble lady who, though so very young in her years, by reason of her indefatigable zeal and knowledge is much wiser than the old women, or that I should omit to make manifest by word the history of one who though a girl in stature is old in the mind of the fear of God.”

We need not dwell again on the story of her marriage, and the death of her children, but we may pass to the compendious account which is given of her renunciation, and the distribution of her property.

“First of all she bestowed all her raiment of silk upon the holy altars, which also did Olympias the handmaiden of Christ, and the remainder of her apparel of silk she cut up and made it suitable for the service of the church in other ways. Her silver and gold she entrusted to a priest whose name was Paul, who was a monk from Dalmatia, and she sent it by sea to the countries of the East, I mean to Egypt and the Thebaid, to the amount of ten thousand darics; and she sent in this manner ten thousand darics to Antioch and to the countries which were nigh thereunto, but to Palestine she sent fifteen thousand darics. To the churches which were within the islands and to the people who were in exile she sent ten thousand darics; and to those who were in the West, I mean in the churches and in the monasteries there, and in the houses for the reception of strangers, and to all those who were in want she distributed her gifts with her own hand. And I speak as before God when I say that she must have given away four times these amounts besides, and that by her faithful stewardship she snatched away her money from Alaric as from the mouth of a lion. Of those who wished to be free among her slaves she gave freedom to about 8,000 in number, and on the remainder who had no wish to have their freedom and who preferred rather to remain in the service of her brother she bestowed three thousand darics. All the villages she had in Spain and in Aquitania and in the island of Tarragon and Gaul, she sold, as well as those she had in Sicily and in Campania and in Africa, and received the proceeds thereof in her own hands so that she might give them to the monasteries and churches, and all those who were -in want. Such was the wisdom of Melania, this lover of Christ, and such was the mature and divine opinion which she adopted in respect of the weighty burden of these riches.”

It is curious that Melania’s later biographer mentions Britain also among the countries where his beloved mistress had property which she disposed of. This must have been but a year or two before the date when the Roman legions were withdrawn from this outlying province of the empire. But to return to Palladius:

“Her manner of life [he continues] was thus. She herself ate every other day, though at the beginning she only ate once in five days, and the young women whom she had converted and who lived with her she commanded to partake of food every day. And there lives with her also her mother Albina, who observes the same rule of life, and who distributes her possessions amongst the needy after the manner of Melania, and some-times they dwell in the plains of Sicily and some-times in the plain of Campania, and they have with them fifteen men who are eunuchs and a proportionate number of virgins who minister as servants.

“And Pinianus who was once her husband now helps in the work of ascetic excellence and is her associate, and he dwells with three hundred men who are monks and who read the Holy Scriptures, and he employs himself in the garden and converses with the people. Now these men who are with him helped us and relieved us in no slight degree, and we were very many in number, when we were going on our way to Rome, on behalf of the blessed man, John the Bishop {i.e., Saint John Chrysostom], for they received us with the greatest good- will and they supplied us with provisions for the way in great abundance and they sent us on our road in joy and gladness.”

As for the spirit in which Melania regarded her own good works, we cannot do better than, quote a little speech of hers recorded for us by her faithful disciple and biographer, Gerontius:

“One day, when certain of the virgins who were with her had asked her if perchance in her practice of asceticism and virtue she had not been tempted by the devil to vain glory, she, to the edification of us all, began to speak thus: ‘To say the truth, I am not, indeed, conscious of any good in myself. Nevertheless, if I ever perceived that the enemy, on account of my fasting, suggested thoughts of pride to me I would answer him: What great thing is it that I should fast for a week when others for forty whole days do not taste oil, others do not even allow themselves water? So if the enemy suggested to me to be proud of my poverty, I, trusting in the Divine Power, would strive to confound his malice. How many, taken as captives by the barbarians, are deprived even of their liberty, and how many falling under the wrath of kings are, by the loss both of wealth and of life, deprived of everything at once? And how many also find themselves poor through the fault of their own parents; others, caught in the snares of thieves and calumniators, are reduced unexpectedly from riches to poverty. It is no great thing, therefore, if we should trample on earthly goods for those which are everlasting and incorruptible. Then, when again I perceived that the Evil One suggested to me thoughts of vain glory, because after the many robes of silk and fine linen I put on hair-cloth, regarding myself as very wretched I would transport myself in thought to those who lie on mats in the forum naked and benumbed with cold, and in this way God would drive the devil from me.”

And she added that the snares of the devil were manifest, but that her greatest difficulties and temptations came from her fellow men. ‘To me it happened mostly in the time of greatest trouble that the devil raised up men having the appearance of Saints, who, observing that I studied to fulfill literally the word of God Who says to the rich: If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast and give to the poor, and come, follow Me (Matthew 19:21), raised objection and said to me: “Certainly it is fitting that some should serve the Lord in poverty and in an ascetic life, but this should always be in moderation.” But I considered those who in this world fight for mortal princes, how longing for promotion, they confront danger even unto death. If therefore those for earthly glory, which is as the grass of the field, strove so laboriously, how much more should I labour in order to acquire greater honour in Heaven?'”